Reformulation gathers pace in Italy

By Paul Gander

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

As the Italian Health Ministry steps up pressure on the country’s food sector to help reduce health risks by improving nutrition, industry federation Federalimentare says that reformulation is already making a significant difference.

According to Federalimentare, which represents 18 different producer associations, major improvements have already been implemented in levels of salt, sugar and trans-fatty acids. “The AIDI (confectionery), ASSICA (meat), ASSOBIBE (soft drinks) and ASSITOL (edible oil) associations are all committed to this,”​ said nutrition and health manager Maria Agnese Dau. “Over the coming months, we will certainly see notable changes in other sectors, too.”

She added: “In 2009, the AIIPA (bakery) association undertook to reduce salt levels in industrially-produced bread by 10% by the end of 2011, and the results already speak for themselves. Other categories, including processed foods such as tomatoes, will definitely be following this example.”

The federation claims that over 4,000 products have been reformulated over the last decade.

Federalimentare is helping to co-ordinate the Health Ministry’s voluntary initiative ‘Improving health: making healthy choices easier’. This brings together consumer organisations, the medical and scientific community, local and national government and the food industry in a National Platform for Diet, Physical Activity and Smoking.

In a statement, health minister Ferruccio Fazio said: “The Platform will broaden out those initiatives on the reduction of salt, fats and sugar that we have already launched through agreements with the food industry.”

The president of Federalimentare replied by calling health and nutrition “one of the strategic priorities for the food industry over the next 20 years”.

As well as reformulation, Federalimentare has identified a role for the sector in the areas of nutritional education in schools, nutritional labelling, high-risk consumer categories and food marketing.

Italy’s international reputation for healthy eating may not be all it seems, according to the federation. “We like to think of ourselves as having a different approach to eating, taking more time and care to prepare wholesome food,” ​said Dau. “But of course, that’s not always the case.”

When it comes to the industry’s response, there are some challenges, too, not least for smaller manufacturers. “There is some trepidation, because reformulation is always going to be a risk,” ​she explained. “But producers realise that they have to start to meet consumer demands for healthier food.”

On the issue of labelling, the federation recommends an on-pack breakdown of either four or eight nutritional elements, by weight or with reference to guideline daily amounts. “This sort of thing is especially difficult for smaller companies,”​ Dau agreed. “We can’t force anyone to do anything.”

Other successes to date include cuts in salt levels of between 10% and 15% introduced by the meat industry over the last 15 years. Portion sizes in sectors such as confectionery have also been reduced.

The Platform was originally created in 2007, and was reconvened in March 2010 for a further three years.

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